Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Bible Reading Challenge- Genesis, Psalms, Matthew

For those who are attempting to read through the whole Bible in a year I am providing a bit of an introduction for some of the books of the Bible. I hope it is helpful. 

Reading the Bible in General:
We are in the habit of reading for information. We consume as we read. The Bible was not written to be read this way. The bible is not a newspaper, or a text book, or even a novel. The Bible is an entirely different kind of book. Reading the Bible is about prayer and spiritual-formation, not merely information gathering. As we read we get a sense of who God is and who we are. We begin to see ourselves and our lives in the pages of the Bible. As we learn to live in its pages we begin to relate our lives to situations we read about. We see the betrayal of family as the betrayal Joseph experienced. We see our prayers in a difficult time as related to Jacob wrestling the angel. We see our own denial of our gift as Jonah running away from God. We see reconciliation with a friend as the story of the prodigal son. 

Find the readings here:
download the PDF here:      

Reading Genesis:
The word “Genesis” means “Beginning”.  The book of Genesis is a book of beginnings. It describes the beginning of creation- The creation of earth, stars, moon, sun, life, families, nations, cities, and traditions.  Genesis is the foundation of the Bible. It is foundational because in Genesis we learn that the creation is good and not a place of suffering that we have to strive to escape from. We learn that God desires to have a relationship with what (and who) He has made. We also learn that we are no longer living in the creation as God desired it to be. In Genesis we see the beginning of Sin. Human beings used their freedom to turn away from God.  Disharmony enters the world and spreads like a disease.  Things, suddenly, aren’t the way they were supposed to be. Human beings do horrible things to each other and distance themselves from God.  
God works to heal the relationship between him and humanity eventually by working with a particular family- Abraham and Sarah and their decedents (who will become the people of Israel). God places a blessing on Abraham, blessing him and his family to be a blessing to all humanity. Genesis follows this promise in the life of this special family. The people of God inherit this promise and blessing.  

Tricky bits- In Genesis there are a lot of names and places mentioned that don’t mean a lot to modern readers, especially if you are new to the Bible. These names helped the people to find their roots so that they knew how they were a part of God’s story. Don’t feel bad about skimming through these names and places. Focus, instead, on the overall movement of the story.
 It is also helpful for us to remember that this book is from a distant culture from a distant time. Some things will shock us. This was a different time that came with different assumptions about life.
Genesis is not (strictly speaking) a modern history text book, or a science text book. Genesis is primarily telling us about who God is and who the people of God are. It is a kind of theological text. Getting drawn into debates regarding a literal 24 hour 6 day creation is missing the point. The questions to ask is “who is this God?” And “who are his people?”
Like God’s people you are created, called, and formed. See yourself in the midst of the struggles and joys of God’s people. How is your relationship with God like Abraham and Sarah’s? How do you see yourself in this story? 

Reading the Psalms:
The Psalms are the prayerbook and songbook of the people of God. They express every emotion imaginable in human experience. The Psalms give us words when we aren’t quite sure what to say. We see emotions expressed about enemies. We see deep sadness and regret. We see thankfulness and joy. Sometimes it seems as though we are overhearing one of Jesus’ own prayers, and pray it mysteriously and boldly as a member of his body.  The psalms teach us about the depths of brokenness and the heights of victory. They teach that it is okay to be human. They also give show us our roots. We pray and sing what the people of God have been singing and praying for thousands of years. Our voices joins with countless generations before us.
Tricky bits- The language used against an enemy can sometimes be shocking for modern readers. The Psalmist has no intension to hide the nitty gritty of human life. They call for justice against enemies and hypocrites and the corrupt. Sometimes the Psalmist is speaking against very real enemies who are out to kill them, their friends, and their families. The Psalms sometimes speak in ways we feel, but would never have the guts to say. They speak truth about the human heart and that condition of the heart is something Jesus came to heal and transform, but ignoring its present condition is not the way of Jesus. Our spiritual elders have said that the best way to read the Psalms is to pray them.

Reading Matthew:
The Gospel of Matthew is a natural link from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and is considered the most Jewish of the four Gospels. This is especially obvious at the beginning of the gospel where we find the genealogy of Jesus, which shows how Jesus’ family line is connected to the people of God. Especially important is Jesus’ connection to his ancestor, King David. In the Gospel we are introduced to John the Baptist, who is another link. He embodied and represented the Old Testament, especially the prophets, and points to Jesus as do those ancient writings. Matthew is answering Jewish questions, and wants to show how Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets. Primarily, though, Matthew wants to show us Jesus and what a life following him looks like.  Jesus is a king and his followers are called into his kingdom. He has kingly authority over the forces of nature, the spiritual unseen forces, over life, forgiveness of sin, sickness, and even death. Living in his kingdom is challenging. It seems to be an upside-down kingdom compared to the way our world works. It is a kingdom where the citizens forgive their enemies and turn the other cheek when struck. They follow Jesus along the way of the cross, and willingly turn in their earthly kingdom for a heavenly kingdom. The way to spot someone who lives in this kingdom is spelled out in chapters 5-7. This “Sermon on the Mount” has changed many lives and will continue to do so if we try to put his words into action.      

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